By William H. Freivogel
President Donald Trump, together with eager sycophants in the right-wing media and the Republican Congress, is using the oldest trick in the book to fool the American people — blame the other guy and get people to look the other way.
Everyone has seen it on the playground when the bully diverts attention from his bad behavior by blaming someone else. Trump figures if he is being blamed for his campaign’s connections to the Russians, he’ll distract attention by claiming Hillary Clinton is the actual colluder.
As Trump prepared for Monday’s indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he was busy manufacturing distractions on Twitter. Think of the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain making up diversions for Dorothy.
“Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?)… the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia….”
Once Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates was announced along with the surprise guilty plea for George Papadopoulos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders took over the disinformation campaign from the White House podium.
Mueller’s legal actions had “nothing to do with the president” or “the activities of the campaign,” she said. Manafort only “was hired to manage the delegate process and was dismissed after that.” Papadopoulos was merely “a volunteer on an advisory council that met one.”
Fact checkers had a heyday. Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager from June through August and is accused of having laundered money and lied about it during his tenure as campaign manager. Papadopoulos was one of the few foreign policy advisers Trump mentioned during the campaign, and his interactions with a professor with ties to Russia were communicated to campaign officials.
Early on Monday, Trump tweeted Papadopoulos was a “liar.” Sanders said later the White House and campaign actually deserved credit for helping Mueller build the case against Papadopoulos by turning over emails. “Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president’s campaign did the right thing,” she said.
What is astonishing is the willingness of the right-wing press to parrot the president’s transparently false claims. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Fox, Breitbart and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post all dismissed or ridiculed Mueller’s actions.
“None of this is real,” Limbaugh opined, adding that Mueller had “gone rogue” and might be planning a “coup.”
“This is a nothing burger,” said Ingraham.
Breitbart and the New York Post were more interested in Kevin Spacey’s sexual misconduct, than Mueller, although Breitbart’s Steve Bannon was trying to persuade Trump to defund Mueller.
In Congress, just days after the profiles in courage from Republicans Jeff Flake,
Bob Corker and John McCain, Republicans were falling in line with the Trump disinformation campaign. Discredited House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who recused himself from the Russia probe after carrying water for the White House, launched one of two new House investigations into the Uranium One deal.
During the presidential campaign Trump repeatedly claimed Clinton gave 20 percent of U.S. uranium to the Russians in exchange for big donations to the Clinton Foundation. All sorts of fact-checking organizations have found the claim to be false. A thin story in The Hill provides an excuse for Trump and Trumpites such as Nunes to try again, but Snopes fact-checkers say nothing in the new information changes its evaluation of the claim.
The bottom line: The State Department was one of nine agencies — plus President Obama — who had to approve the sale of the Canadian firm with the U.S. uranium deposits to Russia. There is no indication Clinton herself was involved in the State Department approval. In addition, under the deal, none of the U.S. uranium could be shipped to Russia. And the big contribution to the Clinton foundation was from a previous owner of the company who had sold the firm three years before the Russian transaction and 18 months before Clinton became Secretary of State.
Nor does Trump’s claim about the “dossier” make sense. It is true the Clinton campaign and DNC paid some $10 million for Fusion GPS to compile the dossier about Trump-Russian ties. And critics are right in saying the Clinton camp should have disclosed a long time ago that it took over paying for the dossier after the original source of funding — billionaire Paul Singer, funder of the conservative Washington Free Beacon — pulled out.
But paying a retired British spy to pay Russian sources for negative information that hurts Trump and Vladimir Putin is not colluding with the Russian government. It is the opposite.
Meanwhile, the evidence of actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin grows. In April of 2016 Papadopoulos was talking to the professor in London about Kremlin connections that “have dirt on her (Clinton)…. They have thousands of emails.”
Papadopoulos told top Trump campaign officials about the professor, got encouragement from a campaign official and continued to try to arrange a meeting through August.
This was happening around the time that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort were meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower after have similarly been promised dirt on Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to elect Trump. “I love it,” Trump Jr. had said at the prospect of getting negative information about Clinton.
Thousands of embarrassing emails, which Western intelligence say were hacked by the Russians, were released in October, although there is no proof to this point that the discussions Papadapoulos and Trump had with the Russians led to that release.
In the Wizard of Oz, it took a dog to pull back the curtain on the Wizard’s diversions. Today it is the watchdog press, not the lapdog press, that is helping to reveal to the American people the findings of the quiet, professional special prosecutor who won’t be bullied.
The kids on the schoolyard seem to be figuring out this bully. Trump’s approval rating dipped to 33 percent in one recent day’s Gallup tracking and a NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed him losing 7 percent of his support among independents in a month, from 41 percent approval in September to 34 in October. A Public Policy Polling survey found 49 percent of the people favor impeachment, while 42 percent oppose it.
Months of diversions, distractions and disinformation lie ahead, but the erosion of support for the president may be irreversible, despite the yapping from Trump’s lapdogs in the media and Congress.